Biological Warfare In the Business World

Self-proclaimed lapsed biologist, strategist and NYC MD of Boston Consulting Group, who stands at the head of its Henderson InstituteMartin Reeves delivered a remarkable TED talk that – as far as TED-worthy ideas worth sharing go – is about as idea-infused and share-worthy as it gets.

Through a rabbit hole-deep analogy between biology and business, he sets out to match certain key characteristics found in everything from the human immune system and tropical rainforests to the Catholic Church, all underpinned by resilience and endurance, then looking at the same six principles he identified, together with Princeton biologist and mathematician Simon Levin, through the fine-toothed comb of the business beast.

Traits such as:

1. redundancy

2. diversity

3. modularity

4. adaptation

5. prudence

6. embeddedness

doesn’t strike as being keywords that keep SEO specialists up at night. Yet according to Reeves, they might very well be the teargas in the victorious army’s weapons arsenal.

Touting examples such as Kodak vs Fujifilm and Toyota’s raging valve fire, he asks – as every other business article does these days, before referencing Uber as a synonym for disruption – why some manage to stay while most wither and die.

A standing joke amongst digital marketers that the only people who give its importance the light of day are, of course, digital marketers, so too are those of a more futuristic inclination prone to exclaim, “This has been said to death but it’s still relevant as hell.”

In fact, it hasn’t been said enough, for outmoded, hierarchical structures founded on the landmines of business practices of times gone by still abound. [Tick tock, tick tock.]

For the Kodaks of the world (a company that, keep in mind, didn’t become the poster child of a business that failed until it failed to keep up when it was too late to realise and turn a corner on the fly) talk of disruptions are just that: talk seen as disruptive in the light of scheduled regular programming. It’s trendy (and therefore new – much like evolution is new and, arguably, the avant-garde showcase of the day). It’s irrelevant because it’s part of that industry, those target markets, not this global village getting smaller by the second. And it’s resource-constraint because it’s a startup and it only dreams of having our deep pockets and limitless pantries.

Mechanical control. I am force A and, through my extensive supply chain and drone troops doing my bidding, I shall exert Force C.

In contrast, Reeves highlights biological manipulation. Now, you might have encountered this. In fact, you must have, because, after aeons of scratching around the scorching earth, your species are still digging here, there, and everywhere, thanks wholly to its uncanny knack to biologically manipulate (i.e. evolve) its biologically manipulative environment (gotta love this whole ‘earth marries human and human marries earth right back’ thing we have going on).

In the business world, you might recognise these stealth super-soldiers by their frustration over a lack of the very chemical cocktail ingredients the Big Boys rest assured in, only to flip the whole thing on its head, shatter the window, and grab a whole new drawing board. I won’t insult your intelligence by quoting disruptions. They’re out there, they’re everywhere, and you’re smart enough to use Google and wise enough to start feeling scared if you stare at them for too long enough.

It’s their very lack of everything that makes the corporate world feel safe and snuggly at night that are fueling their fires to quit games they can’t win, and instead to simply rewrite the rules in their favour. That’s pretty much a poetic definition of Darwin’s classic right there, and it becomes the new black through everything from tails no longer needed to, these days, boring business battles that are just so passé

[Reeves does his due diligence by warning us that Big Business was once a small founder with a big idea, and they very probably and highly necessarily got the current corporate chip on their shoulder precisely *through* exercising these very guerrilla tactics. But somewhere along the way, nimbleness and agility made way for ‘doing it like the Old Boys’, and ultimately there’s another downtown startup mentality funeral. Beware.]

Choose your side wisely. In the calm before the storm, I’m shacking up with the rebel forces. Even tanks can’t withstand terraforming.

Nadja Bester gives up TV-time hours in exchange for deep thinking spots where she plots the world domination of startup mentality to make the business world and its humans-all-over affiliates a more purposeful, passionate, and effective bunch.